Category: knowledge

Whence comes nihilism, the uncanniest of all guests?

By Lou Keep

Friedrich Nietzsche was most famously concerned with the problem of nihilism. All societies, in his view, rely on implicit value judgments. If the foundations of these are lost, he predicts terrible consequences: widespread apathy or violent, fanatical attempts to reclaim a sense of purpose, or perhaps both. We talk about values a lot, and we know they do something, but we have little idea how. Compounding this is uncertainty over their loss. Nihilism is not a choice or intellectual commitment, but a thing that comes upon you. As Nietzsche put it in 1885: ‘Nihilism stands at the door. Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?’

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This world spins madly; 

focus demands ignorance 

as much as knowledge. 

—Red Leaf Haiku by © John Clark Helzer

“Improvements in reason and philosophy can only be owing to a land of liberty.” – David Hume

“We shouldn’t regard anyone as a lover of knowledge or wisdom who complains about what he studies.” – Plato

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” – Socrates

“He who knows only his side of the case, knows little of that.” – John Stuart Mill

“Although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.” – Immanuel Kant

“It is the essence of a finite intellect not to understand many things, and it is of the essence of a created intellect to be finite.” – Rene Descartes

“There are no definitive signs by which to distinguish being asleep from being awake.” – Rene Descartes

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato